The Eminem Consensus

Why We Voted for Slim Shady

Frank Rich, the Times critic at large, certainly knows how to go with the flow. As the Eminem consensus evolved, so did he.

Two years ago, Rich described our hero as "a charismatic white rapper [who] trades in violence, crude sex, and invective roughing up heterosexual women, lesbians, and gay men." A year ago he pondered whether "racial crossover in the cultural market makes up for a multitude of misogynistic and homophobic sins." Now he's slamming "moral scolds" for dissing Em, while confessing, "I've been fascinated by him ever since I first heard his songs at the inception of his notoriety." Now Rich accepts the dubious claim that faggot is just "an all-purpose insult," and he regards the sexual violence as no worse than "typical multiplex Grand Guignol." Imagine the word kike becoming a generic insult—would that make it less anti-Semitic? Imagine racism as violent as the sexism in Em's oeuvre—would anyone slough it off as a charade?

illustration: Ben Nettles

You can claim, as Rich no doubt would, that the playa/'ho dichotomy is just a metaphor in the service of arousal. But erotic fantasies are never just about sex. They are subversive precisely because they have the potential to construct a social norm. What does it mean when our most powerful public reveries are dedicated to male dominance and female submission? This is the crucial question posed by the triumph of Eminem—one most critics won't touch. Instead, they ratify the consensus, making it legit. Male dominance, the populism of fools, becomes something to celebrate. And when culture is on the same page as politics, you've got hegemony.

Related Stories:

J. Hoberman's review of 8 Mile

"Crossover Dreams: Class Trumps Race in Eminem's 8 Mile" by RJ Smith

"The Eminem Shtick: What Makes a Bigot a Genius? Presiding Over Guilty Pleasures" by Richard Goldstein

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